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Κινέζος πρέσβης Xiao Junzheng
Φωτο: Ο Κινέζος πρέσβης Xiao Junzheng και ο δημοσιογράφος Στέλιος Μπούρας

China's ambassador to Greece: Chinese investors eye more successful deals

Chinese investors are interested in repeating the success of investments in the port of Piraeus and the IPTO power grid, eyeing new opportunities in transportation, energy and shipping, China's ambassador to Greece, Xiao Junzheng, told Business Daily in an interview.

Chinese investments in Europe may be dropping but investors from the Asian country are looking out for new deals in Greece's transportation, energy and shipping sectors, China's ambassador to Greece, Xiao Junzheng, tells BusinessDaily.gr in an interview. Chinese investors are interested in repeating the success of investments in the port of Piraeus and the IPTO power grid, eyeing new opportunities in transportation, energy and shipping, China's ambassador to Greece, Xiao Junzheng, told Business Daily in an interview.

At a time of declining Chinese investments in Europe, Greece remains an important point in the Belt Road Initiative (BRI) and the channeling of Chinese products to the European market, particularly in the region's south east. «In the future, China is ready to work with Greece to strengthen the synergy of development strategies, deepen cooperation in such fields as transportation, shipping, energy, communications and finance, expand cooperation opportunities in green economy, digital economy and scientific and technological innovation, and advance high-quality Belt and Road cooperation,» said the ambassador.

He also referred to changes to Greece's Golden Visa program and how they could affect demand from Chinese investors, expected tourism flows and what is needed to solve problems caused by violence in the Red Sea targeting shipping and global trade.

  • What kind of appetite is there among Chinese investors for Greek assets? In what fields?

China and Greece enjoy traditional friendship,and China-Greece comprehensive strategic partnership is developing well. Greece has a unique geographical location and also acts as an important hub connecting land and sea, Europe, Asia, and Africa, which makes it a key point in the construction of BRI and the creation of a new Eurasian maritime and land transportation corridor. It also serves as a gateway for Chinese goods to enter the European market, especially to the Southeast European market. 

At the same time, Greece is an important economy in the Balkan region with strong regional influence. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Mitsotakis, the Greek government actively promotes an outward-oriented economy, attaches importance to attracting foreign investment, and has launched a series of policies to facilitate foreign investment. All of these provide broad opportunities for Chinese companies to invest and operate in Greece.

Chinese investors have always had a strong interest in investing and doing businesses in Greece. Currently, Chinese companies have already had many successful investment cases in Greece, such as COSCO Shipping's acquisition of 67% of the shares of the Piraeus Port Authority, State Grid Corporation of China holding 24% of the shares of the Greek Independent Power Transmission Operator (IPTO), and China Energy Group owning 75% of the shares in four wind farms of Greece's Thrace wind power project.

In the future, China is ready to work with Greece to strengthen the synergy of development strategies, deepen cooperation in such fields as transportation, shipping, energy, communications and finance, expand cooperation opportunities in green economy, digital economy and scientific and technological innovation, and advance high-quality Belt and Road cooperation.

  • The Piraeus port has been a successful investment for Cosco though it has come with challenges. What kind of lessons has this investment taught the Chinese about doing business in Greece?

The Port of Piraeus is the flagship project of jointly construction of BRI, and also a successful example of complementing respective advantages, building strong alliance and achieving mutual benefit and win-win results between China and Greece. Since taking over the operation of PPA, COSCO has achieved consecutive remarkable business performance, becoming a leading container port in the Mediterranean, the third largest cruise home port in Europe, and the largest ferry port in Europe.

In fact, the success of PPA is not only the success of Chinese investment, but also the success of Greece in attracting foreign investment. PPA has made significant contributions to the Greek economy and social development, and has cumulatively contributed over 100 million euros in franchise fees and taxes to the Greek government. It has directly created 4,300 jobs and indirectly created 12,000 jobs and boosted the Greek GDP by 1.56 percentage points.

PPA also fulfills its social responsibility by caring for and supporting port employees and dockworkers, and attaches importance to sharing development achievements with the local community. Every year, PPA provides assistance to surrounding municipal governments and disadvantaged groups in society. It has also collaborated with the municipality of Piraeus to build children's playgrounds and provided venues for the construction of the Greek underwater archaeological museum to the Greek Ministry of Culture. There is an ancient Chinese saying that 'A friend in need is a friend indeed'.

When PPA was suffering in the European debt crisis, COSCO extended a helping hand, which led to the development of the Port of Piraeus as it stands today. I believe that both peoples can feel the tangible benefits brought by the Port of Piraeus to both sides. When China and Greece cooperate, we adhere to the principles of mutual respect, openness, inclusiveness, and mutual benefit. It is based on these principles that the Port of Piraeus has succeeded. I believe that in the future, more "Piraeus Port" style successful stories will appear.

  • The Chinese have been leading demand in Greece's Golden Visa program. How do you expect this demand to be affected with the upcoming changes to the residency-for-investment program as announced recently by Greek PM Mitsotakis?

Ambassador: China and Greece are both ancient civilizations. We respect and appreciate each other,and there is a natural affinity between our people. In recent years, with the establishment of Center of Chinese and Greek Ancient Civilizations and the China-Greece Year of Culture and Tourism, cultural exchanges and cooperation between our countries have continued to deepen. More and more people from both countries look forward to enhancing the understanding and knowledge of respective countries through various channels. 

I believe that no matter how some specific policy changes, the overall trend of deepening mutual understanding and friendship between our two peoples will not change.

  • China opened up its borders to international travel after the pandemic later than many western countries. This year we are expecting a Juneyao Air direct flight to commence, between Shanghai and Athens, in addition to the existing Air China flight linking Beijing with the Greek capital. What kind of tourist inflows into Greece can we expect from China in 2024?

Ambassador: Greece has a rich historical and cultural heritage, archaeological sites, unique natural scenery, pleasant climate, healthy cuisine and warm and friendly people, making it a cherished destination for Chinese tourists. Greek mythology is widely known in China. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle are familiar to most Chinese people as three great sages of ancient Greece. Destinations such as the Acropolis, Crete, and Santorini have captured the hearts of countless Chinese tourists.

As China's outbound tourism graduall resumes, Chinese tourists are returning to the global tourism market including Greece. As you mentioned, we are pleased to learn that after the first week of April this year, Air China will increase its current Athens-Beijing direct flights from three to five flights per week, and Juneyao Airlines will launch three direct flights per week from Athens to Shanghai.  I believe that these favorable measures can facilitate people-to-people exchanges between China and Greece and effectively promote more tourists to travel to respective countries. China is the source of Eastern civilization, with profound historical and cultural heritage and abundant tourism resources.

The Greek people are also eager to visit China, experience China's modernization, taste authentic Chinese cuisine and enjoy its beautiful landscapes up close. China has recently introduced a series of measures to facilitate exchanges between Chinese and foreign nationals,many of which will benefit Greece, including visa-free appointments, a phased reduction of 25% in visa fees to China and the implementation of a 72/144 hour transit visa-free policy for 54 countries including Greece. China is also actively optimizing the payment solutions for foreign tourists in China, helping them to travel freely and enhancing their experience in China. Like Greek friends, the Chinese people also have the tradition of hospitality. We expect and welcome more Greek friends to visit China and gain a deeper understanding of the real China.

  • Shipping is of major importance to both Greece and China. But the sector is experiencing problems in the Red Sea due to Houthi attacks on vessels, many of which are transporting Chinese goods to Europe. How do you see the situation in the Red Sea evolving?

Ambassador: The Red Sea is an important international trade channel for goods and energy, and is a necessary passage for nearly 30% of global containers, 8% of food transportation, 12% of oil, and 8% of liquefied natural gas shipments. The security and stability of the region are in the common interests of the international community. As the Red Sea tensions continue to escalate, many ships from the Far East to Europe had to change their routes and detour around the Cape of Good Hope. 

This has led to global cargo delays and seriously affect global supply chains and trade. The ongoing tense situation in the Red Sea doesn't meet the common interests of the international community. It is imperative for all parties to jointly safeguard the safety of the Red Sea waterways in accordance with the law and ensure the freedom of voyage of international trade channels.

The root cause of the escalation of the Red Sea situation lies in the spillover of the Gaza conflict. The international community should call for and urge all parties involved in the Gaza conflict to implement relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly and immediately cease hostilities.

Regional conflicts have global ramifications, and the escalation of tensions in the Red Sea disrupts global supply chains. This once again proves that the historical trend of interdependence of human destiny will not change. Building a community with a shared future for mankind could serve as a good remedy for addressing current international and regional hot issues.

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